The Effects of Stereotype Threat on the Associative Memory Deficit of Older Adults

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Abstract

The purpose of the current study was to assess whether the age-related associative memory deficit is affected by stereotype threat, which has been shown to negatively affect performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks, including memory performance of older adults. To date, the effects of stereotype threat on older adults’ memory performance have only been shown using tests of item memory, and using only between-subjects manipulations. The first experiment manipulated stereotype threat by providing younger and older adults with either stereotype consistent (threat condition) or stereotype inconsistent (nonthreat condition) information before studying lists of item pairs and being tested for both item and associative memory. The results revealed a triple interaction of Age × Test × Condition (a strong associative memory deficit in the threat condition that disappeared in the nonthreat condition), and this pattern of results was found both between- and within-subjects. A follow-up control experiment also yielded an age-related associative deficit, suggesting that stereotype threat may be activated even under normal testing conditions. These results imply that stereotype threat could affect older adults’ associative memory, and that one effective strategy to reduce the associative deficit of older adults is to reverse negative stereotypes that exist.

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